The throne of mercy

This Easter season, I thought a good deal about the nature of Christian faith and the wildly different varieties on display these days.  The persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Pope Francis’s call to mercy. American fundamentalists’ campaigns to expel immigrants, outlaw abortion, expand gun rights, shrink government and tilt the economic system even more in favor of the rich. An alien from another planet would be understandably confused by the message and meaning of that Judean man from 2,000 years ago.

Had I the chance, I would not take that visitor not to the triumphant hallelujahs of Easter. We would go instead to the living stations of the cross mounted on Good Friday by the Latino members of my church, Incarnation/Sagrado Corazon in Minneapolis. Even for me, raised from childhood on the story of Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation, it was a revelation and reminder of one core belief of my faith — mercy.

Let me take you there: It is supper time and overcast. The unlit church – a century old, marble-floored, high-ceiling — is packed with hundreds of young Latino families, mothers, fathers and children, and a handful of Anglos, who sit in attentive silence. A quiet dirge plays in the background as a young man with an expressive face and sturdy build appears at one side of the altar, kneeling in front of a panel painted as a garden.

A single spotlight follows him and other performers around the church, illuminating scene by scene the story of Christ’s painful, lonely end. His plea in the garden – “Take this cup from me” – and acquiescence – “Not my will but your will be done.” His public humiliation, the mocking of his claim to a kingdom, the torture of his body, his anguished cry from the cross: “Why have you abandoned me?”

After studying Spanish for two years, I understood maybe a quarter of the words. No matter, I know the story well. But this year, I understood more profoundly its meaning. Around me sat hundreds of immigrants, many undocumented, many afraid to drive, shop or answer the door for fear ICE agents will separate them from their children and cast them out of a country where they’ve built their lives for decades. Sitting with them, I felt afresh Christ’s pain when his disciples abandoned him.

I felt too the power of sharing another’s pain. When a woman stepped forward to wipe Christ’s bloody face – Veronica, tradition tells us – I felt the power of that small comfort and the call to do the same.

Most of the time, we work hard to distance ourselves from pain. Our opiate crisis is a self-destructive sprint away from our own pain.  Our politics has become a series of appeals to narrow identities and interests, a stubborn refusal to feel the pain of others.

After the actor was taken from the cross, the lights went on and our pastor pointed to the empty cross – “trona de misericordia,” the throne of mercy. Misericordia blends two Latin words – those for suffering and heart. The combination produces mercy — “kindness in excess of what might be expected or demanded by fairness.”

I carry with me now that image – the cross as Christ’s throne, the throne of mercy. The generosity of God’s mercy for us, God’s call for us to show mercy to one another.

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